Among the Daughters/Chapter 35
"It's nine, won't the surprise be over by the time you get there?" Vida asked, impatient at Lucy's tarrying.
"I don't care if it is," Lucy replied belligerently. "I wouldn't go if not for Nino. I hate going to a stranger's by myself. I know Semy and Figente aren't going. I called Tessie and said what are you doing tonight? She said she was going to Great Neck for the week end but that Beman was going to a stag."
"It's probably Nino's society friends, and Mrs. Cornwallis knows he'll be disappointed without you," Vida soothed. Lucy had been disturbingly edgy for two days, since she had returned tearfully Wednesday midnight refusing to say what was the matter. It would be a relief to have a quiet evening to herself, Vida thought.
Lucy disapproved what she saw in the mirror. A white georgette with ice-blue beads clinging to a flesh slip matching her stockings. Then, above a too-familiar face, a hairdresser's dream come true of sleek close waves escaping over each ear in an immaculate curl.
"I remind myself of the bubbling stem of a champagne glass," she said cynically. "I hate this dress but I may as well wear it once, it's what society thinks Broadway wears. No jewelry, I sparkle enough already. Besides what I own would look like Woolworth next to theirs. I'd rather stay home with you!"
"A party'll do you good. I wouldn't be much company. I must write home. I don't know what to say except that Mae wrote Tina died and that I'm sorry Ma is taking it so hard. I know that won't be any consolation because Ma thinks since I don't want to teach that I could at least clerk at Cheever's bookstore or even Burkhardt's grocery so as to be at home."
"Mothers are all the same, they want to feel you are settled," Lucy sympathized. "But it does seem a shame for someone to feel all alone because a dog dies."
"I know, and I tell myself it's my fault for not turning out as she had hoped, but what can I do? I know I can't be any consolation for Tina unless I give in completely and that seems to me a one-sided demand."
"What I was thinking had nothing to do with you. It was about your mother being left alone without what she wanted most in the world, and whether one can die of a broken heart."
At three in the morning Vida awakened and, restless, turned the pages of one of Mae's magazines. An ad for fried chicken recalled that in Congress she had been unable to eat it, haunted by the vision of the headless body flopping around the yard. Lucy, she thought, must be having a good time after all to be so late.
At three thirty the door opened and closed quietly and, wordlessly, Lucy staggered through the bedroom into the bathroom. The raindrop beads of her dress clung to the vase of her body and from her throat escaped a sound of splintering icicles, and the dreadful phrase "death rattle" froze Vida.
Hearing the retching sounds from the bathroom she concluded Lucy had had too much to drink and went to make coffee. When she returned with it she heard a deep moan and, frightened, knocked on the door.
"Are you all right?"
"I'll be out in a minute," Lucy said in a hollow voice, and there was the sound of water gurgling out the tub.
She came out, her hair wet and uncurled, her face waxy as a church candle, and shivering in her vaporous blue woolen robe crawled into bed.
"A fine thing, catching cold! Drink this coffee," Vida scolded.
Lucy's hand shook, rattling the cup on the saucer. She burned her tongue, thawing her silence. "I met a friend of yours tonight," she said tonelessly.
"Rad Welford. Wanted to know where to reach you, but I said I didn't have your number with me. I wasn't sure you wanted to see him."
"I don't." Vida's throat constricted and she coughed as though having swallowed the coffee too fast. Lucy's body began to tremble and Vida rushed to her. "I think I'll phone the doctor," she said frightened.
"A doctor can't do anything for what happened to me."
"What happened? Too much bad liquor? I've never seen you drunk before."
"I didn't have that much. It was a surprise party all right! I recognized the butler who opened the door as a waiter at Piselli's gambling club, you know the white stone house in the sixties with two Greek statues in front. He always waited on Lyle and me in the private dining room. Naturally, I thought Piselli's place was catering the party.
"There was a big wood-paneled hall and a lot of men's top hats on a long carved chest. There wasn't a rug, though you could see a line around the floor where one had been. A colored maid said Take your coat, honey?' which isn't the way maids in swell homes talk. Even Cleo wouldn't. Then the waiter opened a double door and there was a big square room with Tiffany-green walls that are fashionable now. There were places on the wall where pictures had been taken down and there weren't any knickknacks like in homes. I thought, This Miss Smith must have just sublet this place and hasn't fixed it up yet or is closing it to go away. There were lots of flowers.
"I saw Nino talking to some men and women at the other side of the room and started over when a tall heavyish-girl, the Texas Guinan type but younger, came up. She was in an emerald-green chiffon, three orchids on her shoulder, and had a lot of junk jewelry'. But some real. She said, 'Hello Lucy, I haven't seen you for ages,' and I saw she was one of the girls in that apartment Lyle took me to. I didn't know what to say because I was so surprised so I said 'Hello, I didn't expect to see you here.' I could see that surprised her. Then I asked if Horta had come. She gave me a funny look and said no but she might drop in later. So I asked her to introduce me to Miss Smith. She said, 'I'm Lorna Smith, remember?'
"Nino came to get me and I saw I knew at least five of the men, including Beman and Lyle, and that the girls included four showgirls known for being 'on call' and the other girl who had lived with Lorna Smith.
"And so I saw what Horta Cornwallis was up to and understood that all her invitations were bribes so I wouldn't tell on her. When I wouldn't have anything to do with her—even dance with Ranna at her ball—she thought of this scheme to make me seem a call girl so I couldn't tell without including myself." A tear rolled down her ashen cheek. "Pour me another cup, I can't get warm."
In the kitchen Vida imagined herself in Lucy's place making an heroic passionate speech of denial, spellbinding the hearers before sweeping grandly out.
"There must be someone who can help. Figente?" was the best she could think of to help Lucy from the slough of despondency.
"Oh, you know Figente, he likes her. He'd think it a big joke on me. It is. She knows now no one would believe me if I said she was a Madam in Denver or anything I might say, because I am now known as a 'call girl'—every girl there was. She's sure a smart one."
"Why didn't you leave right away?"
"Well, I thought of that when I saw Nino's puzzled look, but I realized the damage had been done. What could I say—'Look, Nino, I'm not a prostitute!' Besides, I felt sorry for those girls, not all, but the ones I'd met in the apartment of Lyle's friends. Those girls at first thought those boys would marry them. They were trying to be 'good sports' at the beginning. I didn't want to be the one to hurt them more, I thought when Horta showed up I'd think of something to do about her. I did say to Beman that I didn't know this was the kind of party Horta invited me to and you should have heard his laugh. He said, 'Oh, Lucy, stop putting on an act, it's ridiculous for you to play innocent with me.' Of course, Beman doesn't believe in anything but his stomach. To get him really sore is to remind him he's from Kansas. I looked at him and said, 'Mr. Kansas Kid, I never put on an act unless it's on the stage and you are paying a big fat salary,' and walked away.
She drained her cup.
"I thought people lived in those windy penthouses for the view but all the curtains were drawn—though it was so high only someone with a telescope could have looked in. Lyle came up and said 'Fancy meeting you here' and I didn't say anything because I knew the symptoms, he was halfway to a big drunk.
"The dining room had red brocade above the paneling. It looked as if there was a big diamond, emerald, and ruby necklace around the table because every girl had on a beaded or sequin dress, and I wished I'd worn my plain grey chiffon. Isn't that crazy, to think of such a thing when you're so upset? The table had beautiful silver candelabras and was banked with red roses and black hothouse grapes. With all that light on the table the empty picture hooks on the red brocade walls hardly showed.
"The dinner wasn't so bad, more fun than most parties. One of the showgirls was from Mobile and good at Southern dialect stories. Another girl, her stage name is Day Joy, is a bit player, she's a little thing with a black short-cropped bob. Soubrette but cute. She was a cigarette girl at Piselli's. She has a fast line of chatter. Everyone laughed when she said with a little-girl voice, 'Down South, they act like it's a crime to be thirteen and a virgin.'
"Then Lyle said to me diagonally across the table so everyone could hear, 'How long have you known about love, Lucy?' There were three men there who'd made love to me so I said, 'Oh, I don't know anything about love yet.' Well, that gives you an idea of w'hat was talked about. By the time we were finished the girls, the older ones in their late twenties and thirties especially, were beginning to show through their makeup, especially their smeared lipstick because they were so tipsy. Everyone was beginning to show who belonged to whom for the night and Lorna was angry trying not to show how furious she was at Day Joy who had two men on her hook, one being Lorna's. I sat mostly with Nino. Then we danced to the Victrola. I gave a lineup Charleston lesson and the room looked like Christmas with all those jiggling beads. Then Day Joy tied a big bow in her hair and pulled off her dress, she had on white satin underwear like a child's rompers, and took off her slippers and stockings, and stood in the middle of the room and sang risque songs with a finger in her mouth, as if they were nursery rhymes. Two of the couples disappeared and then Lyle, who was very drunk now, came up and said, 'Don't you think you've been mad at me long enough? Why don't we go somewhere and make up like old times? Or are you aiming at a title? I don't think you'll make it, after tonight.'
"I saw Nino looking at me hurt, and then Piselli came, and I got away from Lyle and went into the powder room. Lorna followed me, very upset. Her rouge had a purplish look, and even the three orchids which usually can stand anything were floppy. Her skin was the way faces look in makeup after a show, all lines and pores. She went on and on about Day Joy. 'She knows it excites men to pretend she's a little girl,' Lorna said and went on some more about the tricks Day uses. I tried to change the subject and asked how long she had lived in this swell apartment.
"'Oh,' she said, 'the girls and I have been here only a few weeks. Horta sublet it for us from the owners who are in Italy. We'll have to get out when they come back—or sooner, if the tenants in the building find out. So far, we're protected—Piselli fixed it for Horta.'
"Then the phone rang and she answered it and it was Horta. I could hear her croaking voice and that whistle in her throat. She asked if I was there and was everything okay? Lorna said 'Yes dear, just fine dear, everything is fine dear. See you tomorrow dear.' She hung up and said 'That was Horta. She wanted to make sure you are having a good time. She's a darling. We girls are very grateful to her for setting us up in a swell place like this for the summer. We met her through Piselli because she wanted to give a bang-up party for that Spaniard he's doing business with.'
"'Isn't she coming?' I asked her.
"Lorna looked at me surprised and said 'Oh, she wouldn't come to this kind of party.'
"All of a sudden, maybe because I'd had all that champagne, it was as if I were having a nightmare while wide awake. It was as if New York and being a première danseuse and even Congress was a dream you have while asleep, but what was real now was the nightmare I had had about Horta pushing me into that next room at the Crofter Hotel. That night in Denver I wanted to look through the keyhole but Mother said no. But now I was in the room and I couldn't remember who opened the door. Horta, or myself. Whose fault it was. And maybe because I was dizzy and drunk, there was a big black bull with his head down, bleeding, so tired-looking he seemed to be wobbling on his feet, and I thought of what Vermillion had said about dominating the bull and not wanting to see a world of lowered heads and how I misunderstood then what he was talking about. I suddenly saw what he meant was that the world tries to make you something you don't want to be, and I understood why, every now and then, when I was with Lyle and, at the end, with Carly, I always kept thinking of the girls at the Crofter Hotel, and I was jerking and shaking when I came to and heard Lorna saying, 'You need a Bromo Seltzer, dear,' and the minute I was alone I put on my coat and slipped out. I walked and walked in the drizzle and then got on top of a bus and rode to the Square and back up to 155th and then I came home. I felt dirty. I feel dirty. I can't get the faces of those girls out of my mind. Trying so hard to be what the men want and their eyes so worried. Not all though. Some are tough and seem to enjoy it. The Mobile girl, and Day Joy. I bet they'll get what they want, whatever it is. As for the other girls, they're too stupid to do any kind of work, except have little piddling jobs, and they wouldn't be satisfied with that any more. They've tasted high society. Am I like that?" she asked, breaking into shuddering sobs.
Vida's flesh crawled at Lucy's hopeless moaning. She wanted a hot bath herself.
May 11, 1925.
Last night I wanted to say something to reassure Lucy—and myself. I think women are unbalanced without men, or with men they don't love. Does a woman become unbalanced with too many men? Perhaps there is a door locked in one to which only one man has the key. Lucy always has been so levelheaded. Was she like that because she never has been in love? She has said to me that men vary little. "They have their little excitements—one likes this, one likes that—but in the end it's the same." If that is true then perhaps the search for love is silly, there surely is more to life than that. Look at Vermillion—he seems to take love in his stride. Perhaps that's one difference between men and women. One thing is clear: all of Lucy's experience with men has left her unprepared for Horta's evil maneuver. Is experience then not the great teacher it is cracked up to be? I suppose unless you are evil you never are prepared for evil. It is extraordinary though what a shock evil is, each time you are confronted by it. Horta, I suppose, is shocked by goodness, that's why she has to destroy it, so she can continue to believe there's no such essence.
So all I could say to Lucy was "What do you care what some people say about you? You know it isn't true. Nothing that Horta or anyone else says or does can touch that."
"Well," Lucy said bitterly, "I went to the party thinking I was somebody myself, but among all those girls I just was another whore to the men. I've never felt like this before. I thought nothing could faze me. I'm certainly glad you're with me. I don't know what I'd do if you ever left."
May 15, 1925.
Went out for first time last night. Victor Harmon of the Galerie Avant-garde had told me in March that Pergov was coming from France to give talks about his Institute of Self-Knowledge at Rambouillet and was bringing a group of pupils to demonstrate his teaching of self-development. I had read about him and his famous disciples. Yesterday morning Mary Doyle telephoned to say the demonstration would take place last night at the Allen Street Theatre and that she thought Lucy would be interested. Lucy wasn't but I was and she indulged me because it was my first time out for ten days.
Lucy was surprised to see so many people she knew at so out of the way a theatre on the lower East Side. Damon St. John, and especially Tessie Soler, whose interest in anything is limited to its possible good for her career or finances. To me it was the same crowd (including myself) that turns up any place having to do with modern art—except that this had nothing directly to do with writing, music, or painting. Cynski was there, waving his arms and ranting something about Einstein having overlooked the fifth and ninth dimensions which were the ultimate. Ilona and Vent were taking it all in solemnly.
But there were many strange-looking persons, mostly women, in addition to the usual Village crowd, and some who looked as though they might be doctors and psychologists. Perhaps because I was still wobbly it seemed to me that no matter how richly or poorly dressed, the expressions on the faces of most of the women were all the same; it was an expression of avidity for some crucial excitement they hoped to find. What I call an Ilona face—and which I hope is not mine too! Can one tell?
Many in the audience knew each other and called and talked across those who didn't, as at the modern music concerts. We did too and Mary Doyle came over and told us we were going to experience a revelation. Lucy said to me, "I'll bet it's going to be like that funny Cynski thing at Figente's."
The curtain had been up all this time and the stage was hung with a plain dark-grey backdrop. A few overhead colorless lights were turned on and off a few times and finally left halfway, which made the stage slightly darker than the front which was not darkened at all.
Eight women, without makeup and in ankle-length purplish=grey cotton robes, walked in and about the stage without any visible intention or pattern and each began slowly to turn any way she felt like it. Their faces as well as their bodies were relaxed and their eyes unblinking. As they turned, gradually the movement formed a circle pattern and they began to whirl faster and faster, their arms outstretched like whirling dervishes. Nothing else happened. They whirled and whirled until one thought they must drop.
Then one wraith of a girl staggered and fell, and a stocky man with enormous handlebar mustachios appeared off in the wings and stood quietly. I heard some people say "There he is" and the girl, her face taut with anguish, struggled to her feet and after a while got back into time with the other spinning tops.
By now it seemed far past humanness and the only signs of cracking were visible in some of the audience. I thought of a revivalist tent meeting I had seen once in Congress but this was even more frightening—and ludicrous, for I wanted to laugh too, as a few were. I looked at Lucy, expecting that she surely would be wanting to laugh but to my surprise she was seriously intent, though her face did not have that expression of dedication on Ilona's and most of the audience. After what became for me a harrowing endless time the tops wound down and stopped as so many Trilbys. They did not seem breathless or tired and left the stage as they had come.
Since the curtain was not lowered there was some indecision as to whether the show was over and even when someone backstage finally cut off the stage lights most of the audience stayed on for a discussion among themselves—and hoping for a better view of Pergov who seemed to interest them more than his pupils. He left shortly thereafter and we saw quite close by his square powerful body and deep black eyes to say nothing of the mustachios which bristled like live wires beyond his ears. There were four women with him—one whose face was a lavenderish white mask of makeup with black outlined eyes and who wore a beautiful wig of fine silk thread to match and which was knotted in a large chignon at the nape of her neck. Cynski and some others tried to stop them unsuccessfully.
Damon, who goes in for anything that appears occult despite his Broadway profession, was fascinated, but Tessie only said vaguely it was interesting, that he should hurry and get a taxi.
I was exhausted and wanted to get away too and was glad Ilona didn't stop and left as in a trance—but Mary Doyle came to talk to us. She told us about Pergov's miracles at Rambouillet. How people who no longer could bear the unhappiness of life came to him and through his making them undergo the most agonizing physical and mental chores they freed themselves from suffering—that is, whatever they could not bear—by a new suffering, which, in time, brought them to a point of self-knowledge where their true development could begin. Those who were fastidious were given disgusting work, cleaning chamber pots, etc.; the weak were made to do hard labor, scrubbing, laundering, or cutting wood until they dropped—at which point Pergov would encourage them to greater effort—as in the case of the girl who had fallen exhausted on the stage. The demonstration on the stage was one example of how Pergov taught those who came to him to strip from themselves what was untrue, whirling it away—and it was an exercise based on dances he had seen in monastic temples of the East in which the monks purged themselves as they whirled, only apparently monotonously, into their essential selves. "He has," she declared, "at last made an exact science of Eastern mysteries that the Western mind can grasp." Mrs. Doyle said she was hoping to go to Rambouillet this summer as she knew that only through Pergov could she be reborn.
All the way home and most of the night Lucy and I talked about Pergov. I said I was glad I had gone because now I understood more clearly what Vermillion said about only wanting to dominate the canvas. That there were those who want to dominate others, dictate what others than themselves should do. Pergov was one of those dictators. Secondly there were those who want to be dominated, or disciplined, by some kind of Pergov, because they are too spiritually weak or lazy or don't want the responsibility of their own actions or decisions. Both of these two groups believe in discipline from the outside. Vermillion belonged to the third group who believe in real self-discipline.
Lucy's answer surprised me. "Oh, I don't know. Vermillion is selfish. He thinks only of himself. Maybe a man who cares enough to teach one discipline is better. One could learn a lot from a man like Pergov."
This seemed to me a reversal of what she had said about understanding what Vermillion meant by the bull having its head lowered by beating it down and her own conclusion after Horta's call-girl party that the world wants lowered heads in people. I hope this is no more than a last remnant of her old idea of the infallibility of teachers. What I'm afraid of is that the Horta party has deeply affected her hitherto free spirit.
No matter what I wear I look like a ghost so the least I can do to look more cheerful to say goodbye to Nino is to put on some rouge, Lucy thought. But the added color made her appear feverish.
They sat at the identical Athenée table overlooking the park.
It was hard to bring up Horta's party when he was being nice enough to pretend it hadn't happened.
"Were you surprised to see me at Horta's party?"
He hesitated, exhaling the smoke from his cigarette slowly. "Yes," he said, frowning slightly. "And when you left without saying good night I worried that you might be ill or that I had displeased you, as my presence seemed not to please you."
He is not sure, she thought, but I can talk to him as a friend because he still likes me. And I needn't worry any more that he might ask me to marry him and that I would hurt him by refusing.
"You could never displease me, Nino," she said solemnly. "What I want to tell you is that I was surprised when I saw the kind of place it was, though it took me a little while to catch on. I had met the two girls who live there just once before, but you know how it is—everyone calls everyone by the first name as soon as they are introduced. As you could see I knew most of the men, after all I am on Broadway. I almost married one of them. I've never cared before what anyone thought because no matter what you say or do people believe as they please. I do myself. I suppose it was silly but I suddenly got frightened and left. The only reason I came was because Horta said it was a surprise party for you. Tell me the truth, Nino, what did you think when you saw me there?"
"My dear, I am not a child as you can see. The world is as it is because men and women are what and as they are. I accept it, but with reservations—that is, as it applies to myself. I thought the young women amiable but rather—how shall I say it without being offensive—obvious, lacking in the refinements one would expect in women at the top of their profession."
"I see what you mean," Lucy said dryly. She often had wondered how the great courtesans had conducted themselves. Du Barry, Pompadour, la Vallière. Was it only their acquired social graces that made one think of them also as ladies? It all led to the same conclusion. What was, as Vida liked to say, the distinction? Nino undoubtedly could tell her. Vida wouldn't have an answer for that, she only asked questions. Nino could teach so much. But this was not the moment for lessons of the world. She felt she ought to come to Lorna's defense. "But," she added, "those men like them that way. They are what those men want them to be."
"So I gathered," Nino said. "Thank you for explaining about your being there, though I hope you will not be offended if I say the explanation was unnecessary. A man believes of a woman what he cannot help believing. The feeling of love is its own truth. And that is why it was of such urgency for me to spend my last evening in New York with you. It is many years since I lost my wife and I had never thought to marry again until you came into my life. While, as you can see, I am considerably older than you, almost fifty, my love gives me the courage to ask if you will do me the honor of becoming my wife? Though I have not great wealth, I believe we could have a good life in the world you speak often of wishing to know."
A tear plopped from the tip of her nose. "I want to say something but I don't know how," she faltered in a turmoil of affection and indecision.
"Then it is best to say nothing. At least you have not said no and we Spaniards say 'poco es bastante,' which means a little is enough. So it will be for me at present."
He rose and taking her hand gave it a short reassuring shake and pulled her to her feet. The bulk of his broad shoulders in Oxford grey made her think of the life insurance advertisement of the Rock of Gibraltar, sign of strength, security and constancy. That was Nino.
When she arrived home there were flowers and a parcel waiting. The flowers symbolized everything of spring, and the parcel was Clem's painting of the hepaticas, with Nino's card.
Vaya con Dios, your Nino.
She threw herself on the carpet and sobbed.
"Stop it, stop it! You're worse than I am," she heard Vida shrieking.
She took two sleeping pills and when she awoke from a blue mist there was barely time to see Nino off.
In the nightmare of sailing confusion she could not find him and then after the gangplank was removed she saw his sad anxious face watch friends scream goodbye and she waved furiously until she caught his eye.
"I wish I were going with you," she screamed, overcome with a feeling of lonesomeness.
"That is all I wanted to hear, my darling," he shouted back over the ship's band and three mournful bellows of sailing.
She nodded, showed her teeth to seem gay, and waved, swept into the emotional current which seemed to be taking everything she wanted across the ocean. The last rope was released, and she was caught in a mesh of colored serpentine as a widening distance of oily water churned between them.
"It would seem that you have been too preoccupied basking in réclame to pay any attention to me," Figente complained from his bed a few days later.
"You look awful," Lucy stated factually, observing his plucked-chicken appearance.
"But not as bad as a few days ago," Vida consoled, unable to be as frank as Lucy.
"You'd better stay in bed for a couple of months," Lucy admonished.
"It's my kidneys," Figente confided, happy at having an audience, "they simply refuse to cooperate and I pamper them so."
"Well, this is a nice room to be sick in now. At least you haven't those stinking monkeys and birds any more. But you ought to open the windows and get some fresh air. I brought you some nice spring flowers to make you feel better."
"You are absolutely right, my dear, though you yourself might use a drop less of perfume. Ring for Denis and tell him what to do about the flowers of spring tra-la-la, and what you two want to drink. The very thought of any liquid appals me."
"You ought to diet, you're too fat," Lucy continued relentlessly.
"That's what my physician said. But your bedside manner is less tactful."
Let that be a lesson to me, Vida thought. Lucy is better for him than I because she is frank while I try to spare him with roundabout hints to take care of himself. As when she took care of me, she is the perfect nurse, always on the side of life, except only about herself these days.
"Now tell me what you are doing?" he asked, snuggling into the feathers more comfortably than he had felt for a week. "Boswell tells me you turned Judock down, and quite right. It's a pity we aren't in Paris. I would have Lanvin do over the costumes, though I admit you did very well under the circumstances. After this, I beg you not to dance with Ranna. You are not suited to each other."
"You're right about that," she agreed.
"Ah!" exclaimed Figente. "Good, good. I'm delighted you have discovered that. What is Ranna up to these days?"
"Running around with Mrs. Custerd and Horta."
"Yes, that would follow. Of course, Hal and the other boys in the quartet are perfect for you. I must see, as soon as I am up, about all of us getting to Paris."
Vida watched Lucy anxiously. Lucy had been so depressed the past week, especially since that awful Horta party, that she had purposely refrained from speaking of anything unpleasant. But when they got home she must tell her Figente was very ill and not to count on him. Denis had said Mrs. Perry, Figente's sister, wanted him to come to Newport for the summer but he wouldn't go because Hal was nagging him about Paris.
"Denis says you're to take this at three," she said, handing him a pill.
"You and Denis are tiresome," he complained, swallowing.
"You act like a spoiled child," Vida flared.
"I know," he chuckled, "but I have to have some compensatory pleasures. Annoying you is one."
"All I want to do is to finish your damned library," she said tartly. Sick or not she wanted to be free of him.
"Oh that will take years, so you may as well make up your mind to put up with me," he said blithely and strained his fat hulk toward Lucy.
"Tell me," he asked, "what's this latest chitchat about you and Nino?"
"What chitchat?" she hedged.
"I'm not completely incommunicado. I heard you walked out of a party in a huff. I never expected you to be so childish."
"Don't you dare talk to Lucy like that," Vida said furiously, "your Horta Cornwallis is nothing but a Madam!"
Figente chuckled. "She's not my Horta Cornwallis—but otherwise, Boswell, you are quite accurate, I imagine; though I myself never would have epitomized her quite so baldly. She is a picaresque character who amuses me as she probably would have amused Brantôme or Rabelais. She is an entertaining survival of a more robust age which unhypocritically had essential uses for panderers and procuresses who are after all middlemen—and women—of the eternal lusts."
"All those twelve-dollar words add up to—anything goes, if you can get away with it," Lucy said.
"Don't tell me you are coming down with a case of false morality," Figente said acidly.
Vida observed with distaste the disintegrating face. "Let me tell you something," she said wrathfully, ignoring Lucy's signals, "when Lucy was a little girl in Denver, Horta was a Madam there and now, for some reason, your picaresque friend is afraid Lucy will expose her and so to keep her quiet she inveigled Lucy to a prostitutes' party telling her it was a surprise party for the Marqués."
"Do you mean she actually did that and once ran a house?"
"Yes," said Lucy.
Figente's belly shook, his head rolled from side to side and, clenching his fists like a colicky baby, laughed until tears streamed. Flapping his hands in a last paroxysm of enjoyment, his laughter subsided with sobbing gasps, as the girls wondered uneasily whether he might not laugh himself into a heart attack.
"What difference does it make?" he finally gasped. "Nino is gone. I hear he made a good deal with Piselli. Perhaps after all Piselli and Horta are the new aristocracy, and Nino is old regime like myself lost in this strange new world—'Suckers' as I believe they call us."
"I don't think Nino is lost at all," said Lucy. "He's kind and has just the old-fashioned manners I like in a man. And he knows what he's doing—and wants."
Figente raised his head and regarded her curiously.
"What are you trying to tell me?"
She could not bring herself to say it, but that was one thing about Figente, he was quick about putting two and two together.
"I can't think of anything I could wish more for you," he said. "I knew Nino wanted it, as I intimated to you."
He lay back into his pillows and observed her approvingly.
"I haven't said yes, yet," she said.
"You must," Figente commanded. "It's the only answer to make. When Father Kerry comes I will ask him about your instructions."
"Instructions! What do you mean?"
"If you marry Nino you will have to become Roman," Figente said.
"Roman? He's a Spaniard."
"My dear child, you are innocent beyond belief. The Church of Rome is the church of Spain. In its arms you will find the true faith, as I am again discovering now that I am returning to the faith of my father," he said, speaking in the gentlest voice she ever had heard him use.
"Oh," she said uncomfortably, "I never knew there were so many things involved in getting married."
"I think it odd that you told Figente before me," Vida accused in the taxi.
"I didn't intend saying anything but he's a mind reader. I haven't made up my mind. I love Nino dearly, but not as a husband. Next to you he is the best friend I have. In fact if he only wanted to be my lover I would let him because I would like to do something he wanted in return for his friendship. But I'm afraid if I married him I would only hurt him if I really loved someone else. You know I'm not good at pretending. But then it seems to me I got off on the wrong track somewhere when I thought if I could learn to be an artist I'd be happier. I guess if you're an artist you are and all you have to learn is whatever technique you want. It's the other way around from what I thought. Then too I really owe it to Mother to settle down with a good husband. I tell myself I ought to marry Nino and if it doesn't work out—well—there's divorce, though I always thought if I married it would be for always."
"If you marry Nino it is for always because Catholics don't believe in divorce," Vida felt obliged to point out. "But I do think he would be a wonderful husband for you, not even considering Mae. And I will come and visit you in Spain and Paris. I can see you as a Marquesa. You'd be the toast of Paris," she concluded gaily, the gnawing suspicion dispelled that Lucy's brooding since Vermillion's departure was because of him.
"If it's for always, I'll have to take time to think about it. But maybe the fact that it is for always may give me something I need to live for," Lucy said desolately.
"And what I need is to get away from Figente," Vida said energetically. "I'm grateful for the library job but I know now what he really wants is someone at his beck and call he can talk to. What I want is to get a job where there are people more my age. His house depresses me, for all its collection of books and paintings. I don't care a thing about first editions and valuable bindings. I prefer dogeared public library books that seem alive no matter how many centuries ago they were written. I should be finished next week and I can hardly wait. We'll both be starting off on a new life at the same time."
"That's the way it looks. From now on we'll have to manage our lives better."